Tag Archives: society

Our Bodies and Us: The Disconnect.

listen to your body

Our bodies are wonderfully constructed, complex, ingenious natural creations. They are fantastically clever, and work to keep us in the best of health. But we have been working against them. We have stopped listening to them. We have decided that they are the enemy and we have been treating them as such.

Our bodies are natural but our culture is man-made, and our culture has decided to wage war on women’s bodies (and to a lesser extent, men’s too). We are bombarded from every direction with the message that our bodies are not enough; that we are not enough; that we must mould and warp and change our bodies into something else to be satisfactory women. We are told that our bodies are not good enough as they were born to be; that they are not good enough in their natural forms. We are told that we must alter them, no matter what pain that means putting our minds and our bodies through. Low carb diets, low fat diets, high protein diets, Paleo diets, Atkins diet, cabbage soup diet (?!), 5:2 diet, raw till 4, weight watchers, slimming world, eating “clean” (because other foods must therefore be “dirty” right?)…it makes me want to scream. Instilling fear of sugar and fats and carbohydrates until there is nothing else that is “safe” to eat creates more and more anxiety around food and makes us try to restrict further and further. Equating certain foods with morality and superiority and “making the right choices” makes us turn on one another as if eating a certain way can make us better than someone else who chooses to eat differently. Food has become about being “good” and being “bad”. Food has become about being worthless or worthwhile. Food has become our means of exerting control over our bodies and our lives.

All the while, our bodies are being ignored. They give us a pang of hunger, and we focus on something else. We pass a bakery and saliva pools in our mouths, and we swallow and walk on. Our brains direct thoughts of food to our brains over and over, and we shut them down. Our bodies keep sending us signals, and we pretend that they are not there, and instead, we listen to the magazines and other media telling us to ignore our hunger…drink a glass of water instead…eat a celery stick. We have become so far removed from our bodies that we listen to an unnatural ideal rather than the natural being of our bodies. We are so disconnected that we read information on what we should do with our bodies in regards to food and exercise, instead of actually listening to them. Our society has made us so focused on our bodies: how they look, what we do with them, and what we put into them, that we are panicked by it, and in turn, it has become an obsession. Health; fitness; food…we follow other people’s advice on what to do with our bodies and pay no heed to what our bodies are communicating to us. We are out of touch with what we really need.

Breaking away from that is hard, but freeing. Your body will thank you, and so will your mind once you learn to reject dieting culture and embrace your natural weight, shape, and size. If you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body, eating intuitively will come effortless as you follow your hunger and cravings. Healing, and repairing that relationship between you and your body will allow you to reconnect and work with your body, rather than against it. This will, in time, lead you to naturally eating a balanced diet – this includes “junk” food too. We need to start viewing food as food, rather than something that is “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”. Food is fuel, and food is also part of our enjoyment in life. It has no place alongside morality. None of it should be demonised. None of it should be feared. None of it should be restricted. When you stop listening to outside noise, and start turning your focus inwards, that is when you will be able to be your healthiest. When you get back in touch with your body and start to really listen to it, that’s when you will start getting healthy again, both mentally and physically. If you fancy a fruit salad, eat a fruit salad. If you fancy a doughnut, eat a doughnut. No rules, no restriction, no foods that are off limits, and no foods that you “should” or “should not” eat. Shut out our dieting culture and embrace your body’s signals.

As a side note, it’s important to understand that if you have been dieting or restricting, that your hunger may be powerful and insistent, and your cravings may be strong for the foods that you have restricted (and therefore have fear and anxiety around). This is normal. If you don’t give your body enough energy, it will have an energy deficit, and will need more energy than usual until it is energy-balanced again. If you restrict certain things, your body will want them more, as it is often low on carbs and/or sugars and/or fats, and “forbidden” foods will also always be the ones you want most. If you respond to your body and work with it by providing it with the energy that it is asking for and the foods it is craving, it will settle down. It will become energy-balanced, and it will not be lacking in any food types, and when you stop viewing certain foods as forbidden, it will not want them as much. When all food is available to you, you don’t feel the need to eat certain foods as if it is the last time you will ever eat them (which you may have felt before when you let yourself have a “cheat” (I shudder at this word) snack/meal/day). When your body is energy and nutrient balanced, your eating will be balanced. When you are lacking in something, your body will give you signals in the form of hunger or cravings.

Listen to your body. It is cleverer than you, and it certainly cleverer than dieting culture and the media. Listen to your body, and embrace it.

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Men with Eating Disorders: Suffering in Silence

men and eating disorders

Eating disorders amongst men: we are not talking about it enough. We are not doing enough to end the stigma against eating disorders in general, let alone for the male population that suffer with them. We need to raise awareness. We need to be having conversations about it. We need to be educating the general public about it. We need men on TV, in magazines, on the internet, on every social media platform, to speak out about their struggles and help others do the same so that they can get the help and the support that they need. The thing is, many men don’t feel comfortable talking about it with their closest friends and family members, let alone the public. In fact, they aren’t just uncomfortable: they are terrified, and this is because of the incredibly detrimental stigma wrapped around eating disorders that is magnified tenfold when it comes to the male population. And when people don’t get help, there’s an increased risk of them dying from complications due to their eating disorders.

Out of those with eating disorders, it is reported around 10% of sufferers are male, although these statistics are unreliable due to the fact that so many men do not come forward for treatment and so are not recorded as part of the statistics. A recent study on a large university campus found that the female-to-male ratio of positive screens for eating disorder symptoms was 3-to-1 (you can read more statistics with references in my article Men Get Eating Disorders Too).

For this article, I talked to two men with eating disorders, a friend of mine, Leo*, who is a man in his mid-twenties from the UK, and Joshua*, an Italian-American, who got in touch with me via this website to talk about his experiences with his eating disorder and the stigma surrounding men with eating disorders.

Leo talked to me about how his eating disorder affects him in day-to-day life, and about the one and only time he sought help from a professional.

“I wake up every morning and the first thing I do is check the mirror and look at myself and think I’m fat. I will do it again after a shower and again once I’m dressed. I will do this throughout the day while at work if I go to the toilet as well. I try not to eat to much because in the back of my head is someone saying you’re fat, you’re fat, don’t do it. People at work have joked about me being fat, and I cannot get rid of them saying it over and over again in my head. I want to be perfect, I want to feel normal, and it probably started with the bullying at school and has always sat with me. I went to the doctors and explained that I didn’t feel normal and I hated eating food and I wanted to make myself sick and all I got was the doctor telling me that I need to eat to be healthy and we need food to survive, and that was pretty much it.”

Leo experienced disordered eating for three years, before developing a full blown eating disorder which he has now suffered with for seven years. He struggles with restriction, self-induced vomiting, and compulsive exercise. As you read, when he opened up about it to a doctor, he was met with dismissal. After describing his fear of weight gain, and sustained body hatred, his doctor chose not to explore this further and just told him to eat. I asked him about whether he would consider going back again to see if his experience could be different if he saw another doctor.

“I don’t go back to the doctors because it is embarrassing. I’m a guy and I have to not show weakness. I tried to cry for help and no one cared and so I shut all my emotion off towards it.”

Unfortunately, this is all too common an experience for men, and because of these negative experiences, men don’t seek help in the first place, or don’t go back again after being met with invalidation. Doctors are reportedly less likely to make a diagnosis of eating disorders in males than females (again, you can read my article “Men Get Eating Disorders Too” for references and more information). Not only is there limited training in eating disorders for medical professionals, but the stereotype of eating disorders being an illness exclusively suffered by white, young, females still lingers, and professionals are not exempt from absorbing the myths and stigma that surround eating disorders. Coupled with the damaging pressures from society telling men what they apparently should be like, people seem to have a really hard time accepting that men can suffer from such a debilitating illness as an eating disorder. These societal pressures, which include not showing emotion (or not too much, whatever that means), not crying, not needing help or support, are aspects of being a woman, and they are also supposedly aspects of being weak (because, just in case you are unaware of this entirely ludicrous concept, in our patriarchal society, being like a woman – and therefore being a woman – means that you are weak). On top of that, eating disorders are seen by some as obsessional vanity, whereas they run much deeper than that, and can stem from a variety of things (bullying, abuse of any kind, sense of worthlessness, deep insecurity, trauma, to name a tiny proportion of triggers). They are also a biological illness with genetic links. Your genetics play a part in determining whether you are someone who will develop an eating disorder or not. Those who understand eating disorders already know that developing one is not a choice, but this provides further and solid evidence for those who may not be able to fully comprehend the fact that there is no choice when it comes to mental illness. Still, so many people are still ignorant about mental health. Leo says,

“People look at it as a female disorder. I have mentioned it in conversation with friends and family, and I always get the same opinion – that it’s a woman’s disorder because they are weak or have issues because of how society sees them.”

Leo feels like he can’t talk to anyone about his eating disorder, because they won’t understand. He is terrified of the reaction that he could get.

“I can’t talk to people because they won’t understand. They won’t understand waking up every day feeling the way I do about myself and how I want to fit in and for people not to say I’m fat or chubby. I can’t talk to them or even want to talk to them because my step-dad, my brother-in-law, and I are always in competition in everything we do and I wouldn’t let them know I am weak. I don’t know how they would react. They will see it as a weakness and will think less of me. Even my mum wouldn’t understand.”

I ask if he thinks his mum would view him as weak. “I’m not sure, but I don’t want to risk it.” The concept of men (and women) with eating disorders being weak is so persuasive that Leo sees his own eating disorders as a weakness in him, but says that he doesn’t make the same judgement about anyone else.

Another issue we have to look at is the “ideal” male body that our society has created. Women face a huge amount of pressure to look a certain way thanks to our society, our diet culture, and the media continuously shaming women, telling us to lose weight, giving us diet tips, banging on about “health” 24/7, and showing us a disproportionate amount of slim, beautiful women who have been photoshopped to the nth degree, but whilst we do receive the majority of this pressure, we forget that there’s so much pressure going around that there’s plenty left over for the guys too. Men are being exposed to an increasing amount of images and messages pertaining to what a man “should” look like, and this is extremely harmful. Leo has been affected by this.

“Having 0% body fat and all the muscle in the world is the only way to fit in society for men. Women are seen as having to be skinny but men have to be both skinny and muscular.”

Whilst this is not a reality, and in general only men who are fat or very thin experience stigma around weight, the message has become so strong from the media that for some men, this is how they feel – that they and their bodies will not be accepted unless they look a certain way. The expectations that this is driving some men to have for themselves are unrealistic and unhealthy, and is having a dangerous impact on the mental and physical health of men.

Eating disorders can also be harder to spot in some men because it is more likely for women to have dramatic weight loss, whereas in men their eating disorders can expressed through “bulking up” and hitting the gym, which is not seen as particularly suspect in a society so keen on advocating exercise and showing male body “ideals” as lean and muscular. It is important to note that if an individual is taking performance-enhancing supplements in their attempt to become more muscular and then engages in weight lifting, they are at increased risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke (this paragraph has been taken from my article “Men Get Eating Disorders Too”).

Joshua also talked to me about his experience with an eating disorder.

“My situation largely stems from my cultural love affair with food and how the outside world placed such an unnecessary stigma on what are “good” or “bad” modes of eating. I am an Italian-American, and as such, our lifestyle revolves heavily on cooking and family gatherings that centre on delicious dishes. It is a tradition and rite of passage to learn how to cook for many of us. This is an overwhelmingly positive facet of our heritage, but the media’s obsession with “thin” and “perfection” have demonized any sort of fascination with food beyond what they deem “healthy or fit.” Admittedly, I was heavy as a child and into my teen years – but with changes in my daily lifestyle and just growing, I evened out to what was my normal weight (which was apparently still slightly “larger” than the projected ideal). I still enjoyed any type of food that I wanted and never did I have to restrict. Naturally, as I got older, I became interested in finding a meaningful relationship with a girl. This was when the pressure of having to achieve that outrageous image of “true masculinity” began to weigh heavily on my mind, and my interactions with women in my age group reinforced these damaging gender stereotypes.”

Joshua was also influenced by the media.

“The problem is that “having abs” and looking like an actor/model is so much more than losing weight – it is about obsession to the point of illness.”

Joshua was shamed for his appearance when he became very ill during his eating disorder.

“Ironically, I never did achieve the appearance I aspired to even when I was dangerously skinny. I merely became an emaciated mess, which ended up working against me as I was told it “feminized” my looks and made many girls lose interest.”

Although no one should ever reach any weight, shape, or size by unhealthy means, this shows again the idea of an “ideal” body shape and size for men that has pervaded our society. Whilst no one is naturally emaciated, many men are naturally slim and can feel ashamed of being so. In fact, within a couple of weeks of being with one of my partners, he asked me, “Is my body okay? Am I too skinny?” because he was naturally slim. I had never even considered that this might be an insecurity of his, but it is more common than we think. Insecurity is rife amongst both men and women, and whilst this is damaging in itself, this can also contribute towards the development of eating disorders, which are severe and life-threatening. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and other restrictive eating disorders follow close behind.

“I find it so difficult to explain to anyone I meet (especially potential dates/prospects) that I am trying to heal from this battle. It is such a strange position to be put in – knowing that double standard of men not expecting to be concerned with weight or appearance (to be outwardly cavalier/macho) but still having to hide their true feelings when exercising themselves into oblivion for muscles/being defined. Gender roles and expectations for men are just as serious [as they are for women] – yet they fly under the radar as something that doesn’t happen and are laughed at by those from older generations.”

These myths, stereotypes, and stigmas need to become a thing of the past. We need to be talking about eating disorders more in general, but we also need to start prioritising the inclusion of men in every conversation that we have about it. We need people to stand up and talk about their experiences, but this should never have to be their responsibility in the first place. We need to educate ourselves and each other about the realities of eating disorders and how they affect men as well as women. We need to dispel the untruths and we need to be more proactive in challenging hyper-masculinity in our society. We need to help our men, and we need to help them to ask for support. If we don’t, we are going to lose them. If you are someone who looks down on men with eating disorders; if you are someone who sees them as weak, put that aside now, and take the time to research eating disorders. Keeping your mind shut to their suffering is costing them their health, their happiness, and sometimes even their lives. These are your sons, your brothers, your husbands, your friends. Each minute we continue to treat our men with eating disorders as weak; each minute we continue to dismiss them, we put their lives in danger.

*Names have been changed for confidentiality

Exercise (pt 2): Exercise and Eating Disorders

exercise addiction

This is the second part to the article I wrote last time, which talked about exercise in general and the way that an unhealthy mindset around exercise has infiltrated our society as a whole.

Today I want to talk about exercise and eating disorders.

Like I spoke about two weeks ago, nearly everyone views exercise as something that is healthy, regardless of how it is used. During my recovery from my eating disorder, I told a friend about my compulsive exercise and about how I was trying to challenge it because I was doing x amount of exercise a week because I felt that I had to, and hadn’t been able to stop myself from doing it even when I didn’t want to. She genuinely replied with “Yeah but that’s fine because exercise is good!” Because we have such a warped view about exercise, many people don’t seem to understand how detrimental it is to those with eating disorders, especially when it doesn’t appear to be severe.

Some people with eating disorders push themselves to the extreme when it comes to exercise. Some people exercise for five hours a day, and some more. Some people never let themselves sit down – ever – except when sleeping (and I’ve even known someone to sleep standing up). It is easier for people without eating disorders to understand why this might be a problem, but when you are someone with an eating disorder who exercises in a way that people might perceive as inspiring and healthy; in a way that people might see as #goals; in a way that people aspire to, you may end up with congratulations rather than concern.

For those who have exercise addiction, you can’t just stop when you want to, or give yourself a day off (unless you already have a “scheduled” day/time, and then it must be that day/time and none other). You will miss social events if it coincides with your sessions. You will feel incredibly anxious before exercising, and after the exhilaration of finishing a workout has subsided, you will feel the dread of knowing that in less than 24 hours you will be repeating the same monotonous and exhausting work out. You will continue with your exercise routine however much you don’t want to do it, however tired you feel, or however sick you are. It is not enjoyment that drives someone with exercise addiction: it is the perceived need to do so.

As well as being mentally draining, compulsive exercise (also known an obligatory exercise or in extreme cases, anorexia athletica) can have a negative effect on the body. Firstly, by working out intensely every day, the body is being put under a lot of strain, and is not being given any time to recover, which is needed. Those addicted to exercise will work out even if they are ill or injured, which could have serious consequences to their health, including damage to tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, and joints. When injuries happen and are not given enough rest to heal, this can result in long-term damage. If the body is not getting the nutrition that it needs, muscle can be broken down for energy instead of building muscle. Girls and women could disrupt the balance of hormones in their bodies, which can change menstrual cycles and even lead to the absence of them altogether. It can also increase the risk of premature bone loss, which is known as osteoporosis. The most serious risk is the stress that excessively exercising can place on the heart, particularly when someone is also restricting their intake, or using self-induced vomiting to control their weight. Using diet pills or supplements can also increase the risk for heart complications. In worst case scenarios, restrictive eating disorders and compulsive exercise can result in death.

The reasons behind exercise addiction can be complicated when it comes to eating disorders. For many people it is an additional means of furthering and/or quickening weight loss, or it could be the main part of someone’s eating disorder, in order to get “fit” or muscular (anorexia athletica). It could be about control. It could be, like the rest of the eating disorder, a form of distraction from feeling or thinking certain things. It could be part of orthorexia (an obsession with eating “healthy” or “pure” foods and leading “healthy” or “pure” lifestyle). Athletes, dancers, wrestlers, gymnasts, and other people who are fixated with keeping in shape and keeping their weight down for their careers are also susceptible to developing exercise addiction.

Although it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, exercise addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening obsession, and needs to be taken extremely seriously. It is not just a strain on the body but a strain on the mind. It is absolutely exhausting, and completely miserable to experience. It can take up a huge amount of your life and a huge amount of your thoughts, and is extremely unhealthy for your physical and mental health. Whether it  is the main part of an eating disorder, a lesser part of an eating disorder, or a disorder on its own, compulsive exercise is serious. It is something that must be challenged and overcome as part of recovery from an eating disorder, and must be ceased until the unhealthy relationship with exercise is broken and remade into something healthy. Only in remission can someone make an informed and healthy decision about whether to restart exercise and how much/what to do in regards to moving their body. Even then, it’s a fine line.

I talk more about a healthy relationship with exercise in part 1.

If you think you may be developing/have developed an addiction to exercise, seek medical help from your GP.

Signs that you or someone you know may be suffering from compulsive exercise include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Not enjoying exercise sessions, but feeling obligated to do them
  • Seeming (or being) anxious or guilty when missing even one workout
  • Not missing a single workout and possibly exercising twice as long if one is missed
  • Seeming (or being) constantly preoccupied with his or her (or your) weight and exercise routine
  • Not being able to sit still or relax because of worry that not enough calories are being burnt
  • A significant amount of weightloss
  • Increase in exercise after eating more
  • Not skipping a workout, even if tired, sick, or injured
  • Skipping seeing friends, or giving up activities/hobbies to make more time for exercise
  • Basing self-worth on the number of workouts completed and the effort put into training
  • Never being satisfied with his or her (or your) own physical achievements
  • Working out alone, isolated from others, or so that other people are not aware of how much exercise is being done
  • Following the same rigid exercise pattern.
  • Exercising for more than two hours daily, repeatedly

(sites used for reference and more information: 

http://www.brainphysics.com/exercise-addiction.php
http://addictions.about.com/od/lesserknownaddictions/a/exerciseadd.htm
http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/compulsive_exercise.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_addiction )

Exercise (pt 1): Is it Part of Your Healthy Lifestyle, or Are You Waging War on Your Body?

personal-exercise

My first ever blog post was on the dangers of exercise addiction, but I wanted to reboot this topic and do it over in two parts, focusing more on exercise in recovery from an eating disorder (in part 2), as well as exercise in the general community (part 1 right here), and the effects it can have on both sets of people.

Exercise is something that those with eating disorders use and abuse to lose weight, change their bodies, and deal with negative thoughts and feelings in a negative and unhealthy way, but it is also something that has become a toxic part of many people’s lives in the community at large. It has become something that is unhealthy for many people who are engaging in it.

“Exercise…unhealthy?!” you gasp in disbelief, “How can something that is clearly part of a healthy lifestyle be a problem?”

The issue with exercise in our society now is the way people exercise. The issue is why people exercise. The issues are the mentality: the thoughts and feelings behind what is driving someone to exercise, and the outcome that they are looking for.

If you look around at the media, at health food blogs, at doctors recommendations, at magazines, books, and website articles, then you will see that women primarily, but also men too, are constantly being told that they should be exercising in order to lose weight or become toned, or in some way alter the way that their bodies look. I frequently see my friends updating their Facebook statuses letting us all know they have had an intense session at the gym, or tweeting about how they don’t want to go out for a run because it’s cold but that they need to. I see “healthy” lifestyles which include clean eating (eliminating all processed foods and extra additives from your diet, and only eating whole, unrefined foods) and regular exercise all over blogging sites. I can’t seem to avoid fitspo. Society has become obsessed with it.

There are people who genuinely enjoy the physical activities that they pursue as hobbies. There are people who don’t like the physical activities that they choose to do but feel that the results are worth it.  There are people who cannot stand to do the physical activity that they force themselves to do but feel like they have to do it because of whatever the driving force behind their exercise is – which is usually body hatred.

In my opinion, only the first of the three types of active people that I mentioned should be exercising. The others should cease exercise and heal their relationships with their bodies and themselves before resuming any physical activity. They should find physical activities that they genuinely enjoy that are primarily focused on having fun and/or socialising rather than changing the way their bodies look.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not condoning a lifestyle of sitting on the couch eating Chinese takeaways and playing videogames forever after (but if that’s what makes you happy, by all means, go for it! No judgements made), as I believe movement is part of a healthy lifestyle, but I do not think that anyone should be forcing themselves to do a workout that they don’t find any enjoyment in. I do not think that anyone should be wasting time engaging in activities that they do want to do purely because they are driven by a society telling them that their bodies are not good enough as they are and/or that they are lazy and unhealthy if they do not engage in x amount of physical activity doing certain types of exercise.

“I really don’t want to go the gym today, but I know I need to/have to/should,” is a common comment that I hear from colleagues, friends, and strangers, and this is a result of the insidious and toxic system that is diet culture. Nobody has an obligation to engage in physical activities that they don’t enjoy. Nobody should.  These days we see exercise as something we don’t want to do, but something that we have to do. Doctor’s orders. Exercise has become something we associate with gyms and aerobics and gruelling runs, which most people don’t really enjoy. We’ve lost touch of recreational activity: doing things that we enjoy that involves physical activity. The enjoyment part is primary, and the activity secondary.

Being active is great, but only when you have found something that you actually enjoy. This could just be leisurely strolls through the countryside, or hikes in the hills. This could be swimming with your kids, or challenging a friend to a few badminton games. This could be finding a team sport that makes your heart race and your grin wide. It could be practising mindfulness through yoga, or getting competitive with a colleague whilst playing squash. This could be once a week or once a day. Whatever makes you happy. Not whatever makes you lose weight, or whatever gives you abs. Not whatever gives you a tiny waist or bulging arm muscles. Not whatever burns the most calories. Whatever makes you happy.

Physical activity should be done only if it adding to your life, not something that comes at a cost. Not something that you dread. Not something that you have to make yourself do. Exercise is something that is pushed on us as categorically healthy, but it’s just not when it comes at the expense of someone’s mental or physical health, and it’s not when the drive behind it is body dissatisfaction, or downright body hatred. On the extreme end of the spectrum, exercise can also turn into a dangerous addiction, and in the case where exercise becomes the focus of someone’s life it needs to be taken very seriously, and this is something that I will talk about in my next article in the coming weeks (part 2).

If you are exercising not because you want to, but because you feel that you should, or have to, then I would highly suggest that you take time out, stop the exercise that you have been engaging in, and take the time to evaluate if what you are doing is actually benefiting you. Assess your reasons for exercising, and start building a positive and healthy relationship between you and your body. Because you need it, and you deserve it. Your body is perfect just as it is. Learn to love it, not to wage war on it. Then find movement in your life that makes you smile. Find movement in your life that you look forward to. Find movement that brings you positivity, and never expend energy in the name of diet culture ever again. You are beautiful, and this is what you deserve.

 

Why Do We Find it So Hard to Accept that Our Weight is Not as Within Our Control as We’d Like to Think?

bridget jones

Most of us have grown up in countries preoccupied with weight. We have grown up being told that it is down to us what size we end up at, that we have control over what weight we are, and that it’s about having willpower and making the “right” choices about what we put in our mouths. We’ve been told to count calories, exercise at the gym, resist cake, fill up on fruit and veggies, and even to curb hunger with glasses of water. We’ve been told to ignore hunger, wage war on our bodies, and to trust the information given to us by the media and the weightloss and dieting industry. Even our doctors have gotten on board with the “healthy is only for the slim” message, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

But recently, health at every size and weight set point theory are finally starting to become recognised as fact. Information about our bodies having varying, individual, healthy weights that the body will attempt to stay at regardless of what you eat is at last wedging itself into the media. Information about the fact that you can be fat and be healthy is now getting noticed, rather than being swept under the rug and buried by the pharmaceutical and weight loss industries that benefit hugely from the majority of the population trying to alter the way that their bodies look.

But even though this evidence is coming to light, people still seem to be having a hard time accepting it. By people, I mean healthcare officials and others who get to make the big decisions about what information is given as guidelines for health. By people, I also mean the public. Even though the evidence showing those who are in the “overweight” BMI category are living longer than any other BMI category (yes, including the “normal” category) was so overwhelming that it was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people are still trying to find reasons to why this could be other than it actually just being the obvious: that it’s healthy to be “overweight”, and that “overweight” is not overweight: that we have to accept this as reality, like we would with any other comprehensive scientific study. Even the medical community keep trying to bury their heads in the sand and subtly hide or erase the information that the (many) studies have given us.

Other studies show that you can be any shape, weight, or size, and be healthy (this becomes less likely with the very morbidly obese and the underweight, but that is not to say that there are not those in both categories that are healthy), and many, many studies show that food and weight is not as correlated as we have been told it is (for more information on weight set point theory go to “Weight Set Point Theory!” under my links section). In fact, it probably doesn’t play much of a part at all, unless you are starving yourself so that your body cannot maintain its weight because of the lack of energy, or you are stuffing yourself to the point of nausea every time you eat so your body cannot cope with the excess energy. The latter is not a common occurrence, except for those with binge eating disorder (which is far less common than you think it is, but that’s a conversation for another time), whereas, unfortunately, the former is – because of the influence the dieting and weight loss industry has had on us, and the prevalence of restrictive eating disorders. The body actually has it’s own system for regulating body weight when you are listening and responding to it properly, not ignoring hunger, and following cues from the body to eat whatever it wants, whenever it wants. If you are in touch with your body and can eat an amount comfortably within your day, then you’re not eating too much, and your body can regulate the energy it is being given so that you still maintain within your healthy weight range that is individual for your body.

So why, even with all the hard facts and evidence, it is so hard for us to accept that a) you can be fat and healthy and b) if you want to be healthy, you have to let your weight be what it is supposed to be naturally?

It’s something that I’ve had to think about, because this is a topic close to my heart and one that helped my recovery from atypical anorexia, and because I’ve come across people on the internet and in my life that have point blank refused to even look at the research showing them that the misinformation that has been drilled into us from our fatphobic, thin-obsessed diet culture isn’t actually reality. It’s frustrating, and it’s sad. I am lucky that most of my friends are at ease around food, and – even though they have their own insecurities about the way that they look – accept their bodies as they are. However, I have a few friends that include those who go on and off diets, desperate to find a way to feel better about their bodies, those who flit between diets and disordered behaviour whilst loathing the skin they live in, and those who battle eating disorders (and before I end up validating the myth that diet culture is a common cause of eating disorders, it’s not, but it sure as hell makes recovering all the more difficult). It’s these people that I feel so sad for, and all the billions of others that are at war with their bodies, that don’t know about – or can’t accept – the fact that their natural, healthy weight is not under their control. And I feel sad for all those who are naturally in the overweight or obese BMI ranges, whose natural, healthy weights are where there bodies are at, but are constantly shamed and abused for those bodies that they are in. And I feel sad for those who have spent their life yo-yo dieting, only to see their weight go up and up and not understand why (side note: it’s because your metabolism slows down during the diet because your body is being starved, and then it stores energy as fat when you go off the diet and so you subsequently gain weight, so you end up back on a diet again, and the cycle continues, rather than letting your body heal and settle back at its natural, healthy weight range). And I feel angry at those who remain wilfully ignorant and keep judging and condemning those who are overweight or obese.

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But back to the question: why is it that we find it so hard to accept that maybe body diversity is great, and that people can be healthy at any weight, shape, or size,  and that we can’t dictate what our weight is if we want to be healthy and happy?

The first, most obvious reason to me is that we have had misinformation drilled into us for so long. We have grown up being told fat is bad and that we are responsible for saying no to so many of the foods we want to eat, responsible for exercising frequently, and responsible for maintaining a slim body. To then hear such opposing information means that our world turns upside down. Food and weight are such integral parts of our culture and society that to have what we think we know turned on its head is disturbing. It’s confusing. It’s shocking. It means we have to rethink everything about that topic. For some people, that’s just too much, so they refuse to believe it: they reject the new knowledge outright. People don’t like change. It’s scary and it makes people feel uneasy and unstable. It also means that if you accept that we are being lied to, then it makes it hard to know what information to trust, and that makes life a hell of a lot harder.

For some people, making choices about food and maintaining a certain weight through those choices are a form of control. People generally like to be in control. And even though we associate food and control being two parts of an equation that results in an eating disorder, those without eating disorders often engage in what is called “disordered eating”, and that can most definitely include feelings of control. Disordered eating is not a mental illness, but it’s an unhealthy relationship with food (and most probably involves body image issues too). It’s also really, really common because of how obsessed our society has made us with food, and because our diet culture literally encourages it. To be someone who uses food and weight maintenance as a way of feeling in control, and then finding out that you don’t need to have that control and actually to not be controlling about food and weight is the best way to be healthy, is an anxiety-provoking experience. So they reject it.

People also don’t like to have laboured under false hope. Those who feel unsatisfied with their bodies (and who doesn’t after our bodies have been attacked and shamed and ridiculed by the media and the dieting and weight loss industry in order to get us to buy their products) and who have gone on to diet, don’t want to know that their efforts are in vain and that they will not maintain any weight loss, that they will probably end up gaining more weight than the weight they originally lost, and that their dieting and subsequent weight loss and weight fluctuations can actually create health issues including higher risk of developing diseases, and a higher mortality rate. People who feel unhappy in their bodies don’t want to hear that they actually can’t make those changes to their bodies, especially if they want to be healthy. They don’t want to know that they are stuck with the body that they have, even though it has been shown over and over that changing your body doesn’t make you any happier (and again, changing your body isn’t sustainable). To actually learn to accept your body as it is can – sadly – seem like a much bigger challenge than changing it.

In addition, there’s a darker reason why people don’t want to accept the changing of the tides where food and weight is concerned: people who make what are considered “healthy” choices about diet and exercise feel morally superior.

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from “How We Eat: Appetite, Culture, and the Psychology of Food” By Leon Rappoport

This makes me feel highly, highly uncomfortable, and it should make you feel the same. What people eat or don’t eat is not a reflection of who they are as a person. It doesn’t make someone a better person if they eat whole foods and abstain from any kind of “junk” food. It doesn’t make someone a worse person if they enjoy burgers and fries. Eating “healthy” doesn’t mean that they have more willpower than someone who chooses to eat “junk” foods. It doesn’t make anyone more superior than anyone else. It doesn’t mean that they are making better life choices. It doesn’t even mean that they are doing the best thing for their body and souls. It doesn’t mean anything except that they are making different choices to someone else. That’s it. That’s all it means. But somehow, it has become ingrained in us that we are morally superior if we make “healthier” choices. And yes, I chose to put that word in quotation marks because I don’t believe that you are necessarily healthier if you only eat “healthy” foods. I also believe that distinguishing “healthy” and “unhealthy” perpetuates a negative relationship with food because it then leads to “good” and “bad”, and there we are, back to morality, guilt, and shame again.

Accepting information that affects us in so many different ways is a really, really tough thing to do. Food and weight is inextricably linked with feelings of superiority and willpower, shame and guilt, with privilege, abuse, money, hatred, insecurity, laziness, greed, power, and sexuality – if not much more. To look at it all anew and recognise how much of it is wrong, and the devastating affect it has had on so many people takes time and patience. It also takes acceptance that those providing us with our health information don’t have our best interests at heart, and that can make some people feel embarrassed for having such blind faith in such a corrupt system.

So I get it. I get that it’s not something that people can just accept at a moment’s notice. But on the other hand you can’t bury your head in the sand and protest blindly against that which is proven fact, however much others try to muddy the water and cloud your judgement. Think for yourself. Educate yourself. Whatever conclusion you come to, make sure you’ve got the information and the knowledge. Don’t just blindly accept whatever you are told as the truth. That is all I ask, for your sake, and the sake of those affected by our obsession with food and thinness…for the sake of everyone. Take control by educating yourself, making the right choices for your physical and mental health, and taking steps towards making peace with your body, as it is.

Oh Yes, Eating Disorders Are SO Glamorous

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(TRIGGER WARNING – Eating disorder behaviours written about)

You’ve probably seen it: the glorified photographs of underweight celebrities and models; the tiny, fragile, delicate girls in movies with eating disorders (think Cassie from Skins), maybe you’ve read the overly simplified and massively invalidating Winter Girls. Anorexia is the “diet” everyone wants to be on. Well, maybe not everyone, but I’ve heard the offhand comments: “I wish I had just a touch of anorexia”or “I’d do anything to have a bit of anorexia for a couple of weeks!” Even bulimia, the less glamorised eating disorder gets a look in: “I tried bulimia but I just hate throwing up!”

Why yes, of course, you’re totally right! Eating disorders are SO glamorous.

When my eating disorder forced me to walk forty-five minutes home with a week’s worth of food shopping every week, I totally felt glamorous. When I had to pause every ten minutes because I felt like I was going to pass out, and when I damaged the nerves in my fingers from the tightness of the shopping bag handles, I totally felt glamorous. When I wet myself a little bit now and again because my body was eating away at my bladder to try and get energy, I felt more glamorous than anyone. When I vomited into the toilet and got splashback on my face, it was so glamorous: even more so when I popped the blood vessels around my eyes. When I drunkenly locked myself in my boyfriend’s bathroom and cut my all over my arms, legs, and stomach, it was as glamorous as anyone would want to be. It was also super glamorous when my eating disorder punished me by making me work out vigorously for two hours straight on a malnourished, weak, failing body, until I was at the point of collapse, and when I made myself throw up at a party and a friend heard the whole thing, and when I cried on the train because the man on the other side of the aisle was eating a sandwich and I so desperately wanted to feel “allowed” to have that; have anything. And when I had to run home from a restaurant after eating something with fats in because I immediately got diarrhoea. And also when I screamed at my partner for putting a dash of milk in our scrambled eggs, and smashing a glass and kicking him out of the house when he turned over my “notices” to myself reading “fat bitch” and “starve yourself” and wrote “you are beautiful” and “you are perfect” on the back of them instead. And even more so when all I genuinely, truly wanted was to be chained to a bed so that I could not access the kitchen and eat anything. When I couldn’t think straight and my relationship was ruined and my body was cannibalising itself and my personality had diminished to nothing so that I had no hobbies or interests bar losing weight – what could anyone wish for than a touch of what I had; a touch of what millions of people suffer with every day? Anorexia, bulimia, OSFED, ARFID, anorexia athletica, orthorexia…what more could anyone want but those restrictive eating disorders that destroy your life, take away your health, eliminate your personality, interfere with your ability to work, and wreck your relationships?

And just so you know, eating disorders don’t necessarily make you skinny. They make you sick, and they make you so miserable that you wish you would just die, and they make you more and more dead every minute, but sometimes you don’t even get to be skinny. And even when you are skinny, you’ll never know it. The skinnier you get the fatter you’ll feel. With every pound you lose, you’ll hate it with more and more passion that you’ve ever felt towards anything else, and that will only drive you to continue to lose more, in the hopes that it will make you feel better. But it never will.

So sure, go about wishing you had just a “touch” of what we have. You know that saying ‘be careful what you wish for’? It could not be more true than when it comes to this.

In addition to the idiotic notion that having an eating disorder would be worth it because you’d get skinny, having these incredibly ignorant opinions invalidates and undermines the severity of an eating disorder, thus eradicating the experiences of those suffering from them. Having those sorts of opinions makes our pain invisible, because you don’t understand that it exists.

So learn more about eating disorders, because you know someone with one. You might not think you do, but you do, trust me. Someone in your life is struggling. Don’t let their experiences be invisible to you.

End rant.

Vyvanse and BED: Money-making in Disguise as Treatment?

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Fairly recently, Vyvanse – a drug known for treating ADHD – was approved to treat binge eating disorder (BED). I was first made aware of this drug via a message sent to my blog from a woman living in the US who was angry about the effects this could potentially have on people who were prescribed it. I did a bit of reading up about it, but soon forgot about it. The topic came up again when a friend linked me to an article about the drug being used for treating BED, which I read, and my interest was piqued. I started thinking about the problems that would arise from it’s approval to treat BED that are both numerous and highly concerning.

In May 2013, the DSM-V was published, with BED being newly recognised as a psychiatric disorder. On the surface, this sounds great: sufferers of BED were finally being recognised and validated, but a further look into this and the subsequent approval of Vyvanse to treat it raises some serious questions.

In a society where almost two in five (37%) women and one in six (18%) men in the UK are dieting “most of the time”, and 108 million people are on diets in the US, a huge amount of us are restricting on a daily basis, and when we “fail”, we feel shame, guilt, hopeless, and anger at ourselves. And failing is inevitable, because diets do not work. Dieters often end up in a restriction/binge cycle, and mistake their dieting for normal behaviour, and so only take note of their binging and see this as a weakness rather than a normal biological response to starving the body. If the body has an energy deficit due to restriction, it will seek to restore balance by compensating later on. So with that in mind, we can now look at the criteria for BED:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:
    • eating, in a discrete period of time (for example, within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances
    • a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (for example, a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)
  • The binge-eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
    • eating much more rapidly than normal
    • eating until feeling uncomfortably full
    • eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
    • eating alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much one is eating
    • feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty afterwards
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least once a week for three months.
  • The binge eating is not associated with the recurrent use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (for example, purging) and does not occur exclusively during the course Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

For me, this criteria is extremely problematic. This criteria is pretty vague, and in conjunction with a society that vehemently fears over-eating and weight gain, becomes a fit for a large proportion of people. Let’s take a look at it in more detail:
– “an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances” – this is particularly non-specific, and in our society, many people have a distorted view on what is larger than most people, especially when so many are restricting. It is also normal for someone who has been restricting to experience eating more than normal, because of the body trying to restore itself to being energy-balanced.
– “a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode” – many people feel out of control when it comes to food because we are made to feel that out of control if we are not eating in some strict and regimented way. That feeling is even more accentuated when the drive to survive overcomes the person’s desire to diet, and the body makes up for lost energy by “binging”.
– Eating rapidly is also part of the drive to get energy in as fast as possible when it needs it.
– Eating until uncomfortably full is easy to do when the body requires more energy than the stomach has room. The desire for food is just another way for the body to communicate hunger, and people often do not recognise this as a type of physical hunger (the brain is part of our physical being as well).
– Eating alone when eating what someone considers more than normal, or when someone is experiencing reactive eating in response to restriction, is – unfortunately – normal because of the way our society has surrounded food in a thick layer of shame.
– And if you are dieting, or misinterpreting your eating as a “binge” (because I would argue that many people have a distorted view of what a binge actually is), this is likely to happen “at least once a week for three months”.

“With these diagnostic criteria [for BED], there is huge potential for a false positive. Do a lot of people struggle with binge-eating? Absolutely. Are all of these people actually ill? That is the major question around this diagnosis and the Vyvanse treatment,” said Lisa Cosgrove, a professor and clinical Psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

So what we have here is a list of things that those with BED suffer from, but written in a way that it could easily fit someone misinterpreting their eating habits because they have distorted ideas of what binging is, or are not aware of the effects that dieting has on the body. This means that these people could go to the doctors, tick all the boxes, and receive a diagnosis. Our fatphobic society steeped in diet culture would have no problem with that. A quote from Ray Moyniham in  Motherboard talks about this:

“You have to be extremely sensitive to the fact that there are people who are really suffering severe and debilitating symptoms from a condition,” said Ray Moynihan, a senior research fellow at Bond University in Australia and the author of Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients. “But when we put so much energy into medicalizing normality, it takes resources and attention and care away from people who are seriously ill.”

Now on to June 2014, where Shire wins the key patent ruling for the drug Vyvanse. The Telegraph writes:

Shire hopes to increase sales of the drug by broadening its uses into other patient groups, such as very young children and sufferers of the newly-recognised psychiatric problem binge-eating disorder (BED).
The drug maker told investors on Monday that it expected to make $300m from sales of Vyvanse to BED patients by 2020, following a successful clinical trial showing the drug helped control binge eating.

This raises a red flag for me: Shire will desperately want to make as much money as possible before its patent expires, and this means expanding its treatment to those with other illnesses other than ADHD. Shire had already thought of BED as an option, and already had that idea in the pipeline. Is the fact that BED was finally recognised and put into the DSM-V just when Shire needed a new illness to treat a convenient coincidence, or something more dubious?

In January 2015, Vyvanse was approved to treat BED. The fairly vague criteria for BED could mean that BED is over-diagnosed and over treated, with a drug that is an amphetamine. Hang on, what?

Amphetamines became extremely popular in the mid 1900s as a weightloss drug, before concerns about the dangerous side effects caused the FDA to ban amphetamines from diet ads.

The most serious risks include psychiatric problems and heart complications, including sudden death in people who have heart problems or heart defects, and stroke and heart attack in adults. Central nervous system stimulants, like Vyvanse, may cause psychotic or manic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusional thinking, or mania, even in individuals without a prior history of psychotic illness. The most common side effects reported by people taking Vyvanse in the clinical trials included dry mouth, sleeplessness (insomnia), increased heart rate, jittery feelings, constipation, and anxiety. – take from here.

Vyvanse was approved for treating BED after only two 12-week studies.

“I tried (and failed) to persuade the DSM 5 group that BED was a premature and dangerous idea precisely because I feared it would be a backdoor excuse for drug companies to promote stimulant diet pills,” Dr. Frances Allen, a psychiatrist and frequent critic of the DSM-5, told Motherboard in an email. He has had particular concerns about the new criteria for diagnosing eating disorders. “The rushed approval of Vyvanse realizes my worst fears”

People actually suffering from BED are desperate to get rid of their mental illness, but therein lies the issue: BED is a mental illness. I have severe reservations about an appetite suppressant being used to combat an eating disorder that for a lot of people has roots in trauma, and other deep-seated emotional problems. The appetite of that person isn’t the issue: the drive to eat as a coping mechanism is. And not only are we going to be dealing with actual sufferers, but those misdiagnosed because of the ill-defined criteria, and those faking the illness to get a hold of Vyvanse, either because of its street value, or because of its use as a weightloss drug. Which brings me to the dangers of those with restrictive eating disorders reeling off the list of BED symptoms, and getting a prescription of Vyvanse to continue their downward spiral that only leads closer and closer to death. Because a binge eating disorder diagnosis relies on self-reported behaviour, it means that it is not difficult to fake, and consequently, it is not difficult to get a diagnosis. Pro-ana sites are already sharing their experiences with Vyvanse, and tips on how to get hold of the drug. The consequences of this could be catastrophic.

I received a message to my blog recently when the subject of Vyvanse came up:

I was recently diagnosed with BED and prescribed Vyvanse. My psychiatrist gave it to me because he said I was gaining too much weight. He gave it to me to use as a weightless pill. I don’t think that’s okay. In the past I have suffered from anorexia and bulimia. So of course, I accepted the pill. Hoping it would be easier to not eat at all. I think this may be a problem for a lot of people very soon.

This shows that already Vyvanse is being misused by doctors themselves, who are supposed to be people that we trust with our healthcare. But with the pharmaceutical industry being all about the money-making, it’s hardly surprising.

In my opinion, the inclusion of BED in the DSM-V, the vague diagnosis criteria, the subsequent research into using Vyvanse to treat BED, and the swift approval of that usage, are linked together. The pharmaceutical company have helped themselves to make more profit off both those with BED, and so many without it, with a drug that in my opinion will not successfully treat the disorder it has been approved for. And this drug is likely to have devastating consequences.